Syed Badrul Ahsan
7 November 1975 was no day of a so-called sepoy-janata revolution but one which humiliated the janata, the people, through drilling holes in their aspirations for progressive politics and a prosperous society. On 7 November, the nation watched in stupefaction as a bunch of rowdy soldiers, loyal to Major General Ziaur Rahman and instigated by Col Abu Taher, made it known that they were yanking the country back to medievalism. They raised slogans of ‘Bangladesh Zindabad’, one that had already been imposed on the country by Khondokar Moshtaq and his cabal of assassins three months earlier. The Zia-Taher men were merely giving it a more formal and sinister shape.
On that day of dark infamy, the old wartime cry of Joi Bangla was consigned to the woods by the new votaries of a spurious Muslim nationhood, for they raised the old bogey of ‘nara-e-takbeer’, a slogan raised by the Muslim League in its campaign to dismember India in the 1940s. The Bengali battle song of ‘Joi Bangla Banglar Joi’ was not heard on 7 November 1975. The republic had slipped into the hands of its internal enemies, the saboteurs who had so long lain low. It would soon be time, once Zia had been freed by his friends and loyalists from confinement at home, for Bangladesh to slip further into the abyss.
On the morning of 7 November, three of the bravest soldiers of freedom – Khaled Musharraf, Najmul Huda and ATM Haider – lay dead at Sher-e-Banglanagar, done to death by rogue soldiers ordered by men in the shadows to do away with them. All theseyears on, an inquiry is still awaited into their deaths. In the weeks and days after his seizure of power, General Zia was asked repeatedly by the widow of one of the slain officers why they had been killed. He came forth with no response, but offered to look into the welfare of the families of the murdered officers. There is the other part of the story. Once the three officers had taken refuge in the army camp at Sher-e-Banglanagar, a call went out to Zia about their presence there. No one knows what Zia told the caller, a military officer. Moments later, Taher and some of his political associates appeared in the room, stayed briefly and went away. Not long afterward, a group of soldiers barged into the room where the three men had sat down to breakfast, seized them, took them outside and shot them.
The corpses of General Khaled Musharraf, Col. Najmul Huda and Col. ATM Haider lay on the ground before the Combined Military Hospital, to be humiliated by soldiers loyal to Zia. These three men, celebrated for their heroic performance in the 1971 war, had scorn heaped on them on the basis of the lie that they had been Indian and Soviet agents. No effort was made by Zia, on that day or in the five years in which he wielded power, to identify the men who had ordered the murder of the three officers. And since Zia’s own assassination in May 1981, no government has opened an investigation into the killings of 7 November 1975, not just of the three officers but also of scores of others cut down brutally in the cantonments of the country.
In the light of national history, 7 November remains a blot on the nation’s conscience. It was a day when Col. Abu Taher and his Ganobahini, along with elements of the Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal, inflicted a bad wound on the collective national conscience through installing Zia in power. They chose to support the wrong man. It did not occur to Taher to throw his weight behind Khaled Musharraf, who had clearly been waging a battle for a restoration of the chain of command in the army that had been disrupted by the violent coup of 15 August. Taher paid the price for his blunder less than a year later. And the JSD was effectively emasculated by a shrewd Zia. It was never to recover in terms of political health. The curse of military rule, a legacy carried over from Pakistan, had descended on Bangladesh.
The dark deeds perpetrated on 7 November would have their ramifications, on that day and in subsequent years. Zia used his illegitimate authority to prise the principles of secularism and socialism out of the Constitution. He encouraged the expatriate air force officer MG Tawab, a rabid Islamist, to organize a ‘seerat’ conference in the capital. It was a gathering of bigots that was a repudiation of the State as it had been established in 1971, for it demonstrated a clear veering away from secularism and towards a restoration of the notorious two-nation theory of the Muslim League as propounded in the 1940s.
The viciousness of 7 November 1975 pushed the country into deeper levels of darkness. On 7 November 1975, it was infamy the nation lived through. In essence, it was the first step in the distortion of history. It was a day which inaugurated the process of a mutation of the State into little pockets of tribalism.
On 7 November 1975, all our good men lay dead. In the fast gathering gloom, denizens of the dark engaged in bacchanalian celebrations of unbridled evil.
(Syed Badrul Ahsan: Editor-in- Charge, Tha Asian Age. Contributing Columnist, Shottobani)